Nov 2022

From Cognitive Biases to New Narratives

By Christian Talbot, President of MSA-CESS

To initiate strategic planning, James Madison High School* convened a committee of board members, administrators, and teachers. They were all accomplished, intelligent people working in good-faith. I was the facilitator.

They quickly generated a list of ten things that their strategic plan needed. Their topics mirrored those in many schools’ strategic plans: upgraded athletics facilities, financial sustainability, better support for teachers, improved student well-being, and so on.

Putting aside the fact that none of these were strategic choices [1], I said, “If you ask people to focus on ten things, they will struggle to prioritize anything. How can we reduce this list from ten to three?” (I was willing to live with five.) After more meetings, they had reduced the list… to eight.

Meanwhile the committee had surfaced an alternative: what if they were to become the school for emotionally intelligent leadership formation? This could subsume and integrate much of their list, even if many items would lose marquee status. Many on the committee were excited by the concept. Still, they could not let go of their list of eight things.

Why did they struggle to make focused choices?


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